The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is underway in Las Vegas, and it’s already had its fair share of attention. With all eyes in the tech industry turned to the desert for the latest news, innovations, tech announcements, and just plain cool stuff, there’s bound to be some buzz.
One unexpected event was the police-style raid by federal marshals over patent violation as a Chinese hoverboard booth was stormed. Apparently, you can’t display a stolen concept and expect to get away with it, a fact that you’d think the infringer would know before buying booth space.
But that’s not the most unsettling thing to come out of CES this year, not by a long shot. Jane Wakefield, for the BBC, wrote a chilling piece about a private demo she had of an Israeli company’s newest product, and it is the stuff of nightmares for privacy advocates and security experts. The software, developed by a company called Neura, basically soaks up every single aspect of your digital day like a sponge and stores it in your smartphone, presumably to give you a nanosecond-by-nanosecond accounting of your activities, your whereabouts, even your recorded thoughts and communications.
What could possibly go wrong?
For now, the software gathers all of the information from the apps, devices, and even wearables that the user owns, and then uses that data to notify the user of things he may not even know he needs to do. For example, if the user stopped by the dry cleaners on Thursday but no money came out of his mobile wallet, in theory the app could figure out that the user had dropped off clothes to be laundered but has yet to pick them up, based on the location settings and access to the mobile wallet. Therefore, an alert could pop up on Tuesday when the user gets close to that location, reminding him that he might need to pick up his clothes.
That’s the kind of harmless-but-hypothetical scenario that this kind of technology could do, and instead of asking why we need our smartphone to seamlessly remind us of things that we didn’t tell it to remind us of (by setting an alert or calendar entry), we should be instead asking ourselves what privacy really means anymore. This is especially true in light of Neura’s plans to integrate this technology into other apps and allow other developers to use it, letting them have this same access to all things you. There is a strong market for this kind of technology, largely because a growing number of consumers have changed the way they view personal privacy. If the internet wants to know where you get your suits dry cleaned, so be it.
At the same time, the argument Neura makes for this technology is that right now, IoT and smart devices are controlled by tech giants like Google and Amazon, not by the consumers themselves. By gathering genuine data on what you do and when, the goal is for your phone to be smarter than those guys.